Approaching midseason, you’d expect some clarity regarding the relative quality of teams in the NFL. In 2016, however, the league seems to reset from week to week. The Panthers had been terrible, but dominated the Cardinals in Week 8. Former powerhouses Seattle and Arizona can’t get out of their own way on offense. The Packers were good, then, they stunk, now, they’re good again? The Vikings were going to ride a dominant defense and cruise to an NFC North title … until a previously woeful Bears team pasted them on Monday Night.
About the only thing fantasy owners can count on right now is that the Patriots are really, really good. And – as sure as God made green apples – we can always look to the Browns as a matchup to exploit.
On to Week 9 …
MATCHUPS TO EXPLOIT
Cowboys (@ Cleveland) Sunday, noon
The Browns have overtaken (undertaken?) the Raiders to become the league’s worst defense. Cleveland has given up an average of 421.5 yards and 29.8 points per game. The Cowboys, on the other hand, can seem to do no wrong. Super Rookie Ezekiel Elliot has 799 yards and is averaging 5.0 yards per carry. With the Browns rush defense giving up an average of 4.8 yards per carry, this is a dream matchup.
Must start: Elliott
Solid play: Dak Prescott, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Dan Bailey
Worth a look: Cole Beasley, Cowboys D/ST
Last resort: Alfred Morris, Terrance Williams
Saints (@ 49ers) Sunday, 3:05
Mark Ingram’s fumble earned him a trip onto the bench and into Sean Payton’s doghouse. The thinking here is he will return as the feature back, but monitor the situation. The 49ers' 30th-ranked defense is giving up 31.7 points and 407 yards per game.
Must start: Drew Brees, Brandin Cooks
Solid play: Ingram, Michael Thomas, Coby Fleener, Wil Lutz
Worth a look: Tim Hightower, Willie Snead
Last resort: Saints D/ST
Packers (vs. Colts) Sunday, 3:25
We weren’t sure that 1.5 quarters of offensive production against the Bears was proof that the Pack was back, but their 32 points in Atlanta serves as a stronger indication. With Brady on bye, Aaron Rodgers might be the top QB play of the week. Green Bay is spreading around the targets this season. That makes all of their WRs capable of a good day, but it also means that none of them is a lock. The over/under in this game (around 53) is the highest of the week. Monitor the injury status of Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery.
Must start: Rodgers, Mason Crosby
Solid play: Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams
Worth a look: Knile Davis, Cobb*, Montgomery*
Last resort: Don Jackson, Aaron Ripkowski
Stay away: Packers D/ST
Falcons (@ Bucs) Thursday, 7:25
Most fantasy owners hate Thursday games. Judging from the ratings, the viewing public feels the same way. Setting aside concerns about an early game, the O/U in this game is 51.5, the second highest of Week 9.
Broncos (@ Raiders), Sunday, 7:30
This game is unlikely to be a shootout, but Denver should be able to churn out some yards against Oakland’s 31st-ranked defense. The Broncos should score around 20-24 points and it looks like a particularly good matchup for Devontae Booker and Brandon McManus.
MATCHUPS TO AVOID
Lions (@ Vikings) Sunday, noon
After a Monday Night thumping by Chicago (yes, Chicago) the Vikings can no longer claim the No. 1 defense in the NFL. Having dropped two straight games, Minnesota’s arrow is pointing down. However, the Lions have been wildly inconsistent on offense and the Vikes are still yielding an NFL low 14.9 points per game. Their two losses have been on the road. This feels like a bounce-back game, especially for Minnesota’s defense.
Must start: none
Solid play: Marvin Jones, Eric Ebron
Worth a look: Matthew Stafford, Theo Riddick, Golden Tate, Lions D/ST
Last resort: Matt Prater
Stay away: Justin Forsett, Zach Zenner
Giants (vs. Eagles) Sunday, noon
Philadelphia allows 16.7 points per game – only New England, Seattle, and Minnesota are stingier. The Giants have been decidedly mediocre on offense. Eli Manning has thrown just 8 TDs (6 INTs) this season and New York has no ground game to speak of. Rashad Jennings is averaging just 2.7 yards on 52 carries.
Must start: Odell Beckham Jr.
Solid play: Giants D/ST
Worth a look: Manning, Jennings, Sterling Shepard
Last resort: Victor Cruz, Will Tye, Larry Donnell
Stay away: Paul Perkins
Jaguars (@ Chiefs) Sunday, noon
The Chiefs 15th-ranked defense could be considered underachievers, but a closer look suggests a unit better than its ranking. In Week 4, they gave up 439 yards and 43 points in a blowout loss to Pittsburgh. Factoring out that game, since Week 2, Kansas City's opponents have scored 19, 3, 10, 21 and 14 points, respectively. The only team to crest 20 was the explosive Saints – and they scored just 21, including a garbage-time TD. Last week, the Chiefs gave up just 10 to the Colts in Indy. Meanwhile, the Jaguars have regressed from a promising 2015. They are ranked 26th offensively and average just under 20 points per game. This would be a good week to start the Chiefs D/ST.
Must start: none
Solid play: none
Worth a look: Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Julius Thomas
Last resort: Blake Bortles, T.J. Yeldon, Chris Ivory, Jaguars D/ST
Stay away: Jason Myers
Bills (@ Seahawks) Monday, 7:30
Remember that 6-6 tie in Arizona a couple of weeks ago? Don’t be surprised if this game looks a little like that one. The Seahawks have the league’s 6th-ranked defense in terms of yards. They allow the second-fewest points (15.6) per game. On offense, the Bills are a below average 24th in total yards and a dismal 31st in passing yards. Only the woeful 49ers produce fewer yards through the air. If LeSean McCoy is sidelined, it is hard to envision Buffalo producing at a level that would justify much interest from fantasy owners.
Must start: none
Solid play: McCoy* (if active)
Worth a look: Mike Gillislee (if no McCoy), Bills D/ST
Last resort: Tyrod Taylor, Robert Woods, Charles Clay*
Stay away: Dan Carpenter
Dolphins (vs. Jets), Sunday, noon
The Jets' defense isn’t very good overall, but they are No. 1 against the run, They give up just 74 rushing yards per game and 3.3 yards per attempt. Jay Ajayi remains a must start, but this is a below-average matchup for him.
*Check injury status